Japan remained a secluded nation under the feudal rule of the Tokugawa shogunate until US naval warships arrived in 1853 to force the opening of Japanese ports, ratified by the Convention of Kanagawa. Under the slogan of “sonno joi” (revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians) Japanese reformists started a war against the shogunate. The shogunate was overthrown in 1867. Emperor Meiji succeeded to the throne the following year and began a period of reform featuring the adoption of Western learning, capitalism and a constitutional monarchy. Japan was the first in Asia to industrialize, a process that characterized the Meiji Restoration.
As it modernized, Japan also became increasingly aggressive, militaristic and expansionist. Japan forced Korea (a tributary state of China) to sign the Treaty of Ganghwa in 1876, annexed the Ryukyu Islands (a Chinese dependency which was later renamed Okinawa) in 1879 and formulated a policy known as the Strategy for Conquering the Qing Dynasty in 1887. Japan’s Continental Policy promoted the sequential invasion of Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria and the rest of China before conquering all of Asia and the world. China and Japan were simultaneously modernizing their military; war was inevitable.
US warship illustrated by a Japanese artist. In 1853, US warships arrived in Japan. By the following year, they had forced the Japanese Bakufu government to sign the Convention of Kanagawa, which forced Japan to enter into trade with the US. Considered a grave humiliation by the Japanese people, this sparked anti-Bakufu campaigns and calls for reforms.
The young Emperor Meiji. In 1867, upon the death of Emperor Kōmei, Prince Mutsuhito succeeded to the throne and became Emperor Meiji a year later at the age of 16, marking the era of the Meiji Restoration.
Fukuzawa Yukichi was a reform-minded thinker during the Meiji Restoration and an advocate of comprehensive modernization and Western learning – contrary to the superficial adoption of reform during the Self-Strengthening Movement in China. His portrait is depicted on the Japanese 10,000-Yen banknote.
During the Meiji Restoration, Japanese delegations travelled frequently to the US and Europe where they carefully studied how the West had become so advanced. The picture shows members of the Iwakura Mission before their departure in December 1871. From the left, Kido Takayoshi, Yamaguchi Masuka, Iwakura Tomomi, Itō Hirobumi and Ōkubo Toshimichi were among the elite reformists of modern Japan.
A new form of mandatory education was introduced for boys and girls alike to improve literacy during the Meiji period.
By importing machinery and adopting the corporate management system of the West, Japan strived to prosper from industrial and commercial development. Pictured is a textile factory.
Modernized Japanese soldiers during the Meiji Restoration. The Japanese army was modernized through westernized training and techniques during the Meiji period. Japan also introduced mandatory military service among men and medical training among women in preparation for war as a nation. Besides guns and cannons, Kendo (a traditional Japanese martial art) and Bushido (a samurai code of honor) were emphasized.
A Japanese warship of the Meiji period. The capability of Japan’s navy was of great strategic importance for the island nation. By the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894, Japan had become the major naval power in East Asia.
The Meiji Restoration’s initial success bolstered the Japanese, who began to show their expansionist ambitions. In February 26, 1876, Japan forced Korea to sign the unequal Treaty of Ganghwa. This granted Japan the right to conduct surveys and map operations in the seas off the Korean coastline, in addition to consular jurisdiction and preferential trade treatment and other unilateral rights. Although Korea was a tributary state of China at that time, the Qing court made no protest. The picture shows Japanese and Korean representatives signing the Treaty of Ganghwa.
In 1879, Japan annexed the Ryukyu Islands, a Chinese dependency which was later renamed Okinawa, encountering little resistance. Korea became Japan’s next target.
Source of most photos used in this feature piece: Fotoe (pictures 1, 3 and 8), misc. photo sources.